GREAT READS FOR DECEMBER 2012
The Twelve, by Justin Cronin
The Apocolypse is here. The sequel to Justin Cronin’s epic novel ‘The Passage’ (see March 2011 review below) has arrived and once again the reader is swept into the bleak and terrifying new world that is the U.S.A., after a failed scientific experiment backed by the military in Colorado loosed twelve fatally infectious mutants onto an unsuspecting population.
The action switches back and forth from the weeks and months after the catastrophe to 100 years in the future, when America stands alone – all other countries of the world have forsaken it in their attempts to keep the virus and its dreadful carriers away from their shores and Mr Cronin paints, as always, superb pictures of the destruction and decay of once mighty cities; the terrible despair and hopelessness of the population; the establishment by brave men and women still fuelled by hope of fortresses in which to build safe settlements, and the efforts of a few who have not lost their nerve to find and annihilate The Twelve so that Americans may once again live as they did in The Time Before.
As in the first book, there are many unforgettable characters, ancestors of those who take the fight in book two to its ultimate destination; they are so beautifully realised that it is a regret to the reader when their role in the story ends. As before, the action and suspense is palpably real – but intermittently: Mr Cronin does not generate in this book the same breakneck pace so necessary to move along a story of this size and scope, and parts of the novel, particularly in the Homeland sections, are less than credible. Which is a shame, for Mr Cronin met effortlessly all the requirements that any reader could desire in book one: perhaps book three will find that exceptional rhythm once again, when good will triumph over evil – or Armageddon will destroy all.
Either way, the reader can count on Justin Cronin to keep them turning the pages until the very end –providing he doesn’t slow down in the middle!
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Now: Your first requisite for reading this book is strong wrists – it’s a doorstopper. This is a novel on the grand scale as well as huge physical size; it’s a tale of a scientific experiment gone dreadfully, fatally wrong, conducted by the U.S. Army in a remote location in the mountains of Colorado, the scientific objective being to create a race of ‘Super Soldiers’, impervious to heat, cold, disease and virtually indestructible, thereby conquering America’s terrorist enemies in Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent. There would be no more wounded and dying to be returned home ‘eating up the defence budget in the veterans’ hospitals’; in short, it would be the answer to the Pentagon’s prayers – all that had to be done was to inject a new-found virus into chosen candidates, and after a short period of illness, a perfect, invincible warrior would be born.
But here’s the rub: the men initially chosen as guinea-pigs for the experiment were all convicts on Death Row, criminals of the worst kind. When injected with the serum they were turned into killing machines, entirely devoid of morals, compassion and conscience – and highly infectious. The major part of the plot deals with their escape, the destruction they wreak on the world, and What Happens Next, for naturally there are some resourceful survivors left to battle these thousands of dreadful beings.
Mr. Cronin is a superb story-teller; his masterly plotting and wonderful imagery create suspense of the most heart-stopping kind; at no time does the story sag or lose impetus - no mean feat when you consider the size of this book (760 pages). I read that ‘The Passage’ is the first book of a trilogy: my heart and my wrists quail at the thought of the sheer physical weight of words in the next two volumes, but I can honestly say that I can’t wait to continue this epic adventure, at the very least to find out WHAT HAPPENS, but also to know how Mr. Cronin’s characters eventually vanquish the mutants – or will they? There’s only one way to find out: keep reading. Book #2 is called ‘The Twelve’.
The Panther, by Nelson de Mille
Anti-Terrorist Task Force Agent John Corey and his long-suffering wife FBI Agent Kate Mayfield are back for another adventure – and it’s about time! As he has ably demonstrated in previous books, Nelson de Mille’s two protagonists are endlessly entertaining, resourceful and courageous in their work on behalf of their country: even to readers who have never experienced the tragic and terrible effects of terrorism, Mr de Mille’s characters speak with an authentic voice, and because they are so grounded they are all the more credible.
Kate’s boss, coldly efficient Tom Walsh, makes them both an offer they can’t refuse: fly to Yemen, which in 2003, the timeline of this novel, is the latest hotbed of Al Qaeda activity and recruiting. There is a new, charismatic leader rallying the Jihadists: Bulus ibn al-Darwish, otherwise known as the Panther, the master planner allegedly behind the bombing of the U.S. warship ‘Cole’. His ruthlessness and hatred for America and the West is no different from all other Al Qaeda members; what is utterly repugnant is that he is American-born – a citizen of the U.S.A. and filled with an implacable hatred for the country of his birth. It will be John and Kate’s job to apprehend him, read him his rights then hand him over to the appropriate U.S. authorities. Their reward for the capture of the Panther? Well, they can name their future long-term postings. And if they decide to refuse the assignments? No contract renewal for John, and Kate will be sent indefinitely to Washington. Well. What would YOU do?
They arrive in Yemen’s capital Sana’a after a crash course in Arab culture and customs and are briefed on plans to proceed with the ostensible ‘capture’, but there is tacit agreement that the Panther will not return to America alive – which is fine by all concerned, a fitting end for someone who betrays his country – the only problem for John is that something seems a little off. He is an arch cynic, a ‘believe-it-when-I-see-it’ kind of guy, a man who trusts no-one, including his superiors, and eventually he is proven correct: he and Kate find that they have been unwitting pawns in a much bigger game than they were aware of, and instead of hunters they become the quarry, pursued by their own kind, men who believe utterly in the end justifying the means. It seems that the Panther will not be the only one who will not return to America alive.
This great read is narrated as always by John Corey. Oh, he has such a smart mouth and uses it to great effect – except in conversations with his wife; he thinks of endless last words, but delivers very few: he’s not silly, is he? He and Kate are the perfect candidates for the suicidal situation in which they find themselves, ably assisted by another character from previous books, Paul Brenner: this redoubtable trio are determined not to leave their bones in Yemen to facilitate a Great Game, and Mr de Mille has great fun constructing hair-raising situations and twists in the plot to hinder them. Oh, he is SO reliable and writes with such aplomb: every book a gem.